Magazine article The Spectator

More Mayoral Election Fever

Magazine article The Spectator

More Mayoral Election Fever

Article excerpt

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE NORTH by Philip Pullman David Fickling Books, £9.99, pp. 95, ISBN 9780385614320 £7.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Once Upon a Time in the North is not to be confused with The Book of Dust, the big book which Philip Pullman has been promising for some time in interviews about His Dark Materials trilogy and what happens next. It is, instead, a short, elegant, simple story about what happened between two of his best-loved characters -- the Texan aeronaut and the talking polar bear -- a long time before the events of Northern Lights (1995). And while the title pays tribute to a classic western, and the story itself, although set in an Arctic port, has about it more than a whiff of cowboy gunshot, this little volume nonetheless bears defiant witness to the untranslatable glories of print as a medium. Admirers of Pullman, still reeling from the appalling film The Golden Compass -- last year's sugary shocker of a Christmas schlocker -- will be happily reminded of what it was that drew them in to begin with.

The aeronaut, Lee Scoresby, makes a crash-landing on the arctic port of Novy Odense in the balloon he has won in a game of poker. He finds the town in the throes of a mayoral election campaign in which a sinister demagogue is whipping up feeling against the bears of the region, who live on the edges of the town in a menacing atmosphere of cowed resentment. Scoresby is briefly distracted by the vapid beauty of the demagogue's daughter, but soon pieces together the connection between the demagogue and a powerful mining company, and recognises the demagogue's henchman as a contract killer from a previous adventure. …

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